Site Speed is Critical to Your SEO Success

Everyone (everyone!) can relate to the frustration that comes with trying to access slow-loading websites. A second or two in the real world feels like an eternity online, especially when a web user is eager to read an article, make a purchase, or chat with friends or family. As such, it’s no surprise that site speeds can be a critical part of search engine optimization success.

For those more concerned with other aspects of SEO, like backlinking, keywords and phrases, and mobile optimization, it’s easy to let little things like site speed fall by the wayside. However, failing to incorporate all aspects of SEO best practices, not just the most obvious ones, can be detrimental.

For companies and marketers interested in making the most impact on the web, site speed can be a critical place on which to focus. Luckily, there are ways to improve site speed to reduce the likelihood of losing customers exiting your website. By understanding the importance of site speed as well as how to analyze it, companies can make decisions with performance and user experience in mind.

Why Site Speed Is Important?

Site speed is an important but often overlooked aspect of SEO. All websites can be slow. Even the simplest of designs can have large image sizes, poorly and unoptimized code, among other items that can slow down the user experience.

With today’s standard load times – often a fraction of a second – web users have little patience for websites that don’t populate almost immediately. The first 5 seconds of load time have the biggest impact on conversion rates, and conversions drop by over 4% with every second. If load time reaches ten seconds, the chance a web user will click away rises by 132%. Almost 70% of consumers say that site speed impacts their buying decisions. Virtually every industry offers a plethora of options customers can consider, and if the competition offers a better online experience, potential buyers will look elsewhere.

In addition to the ramifications to conversion rates, Google cares (a lot!) about site speed, too. While Google keeps their exact algorithms under wraps, it’s no secret that site speed is part of the formula. If a site is out of date and loads slowly, ranking in the search engine results pages will drop, too. This goes against the objectives of SEO, creating a big problem for companies interested in growing a web presence and converting customers via a website. The average load time for a site on the first page of the SERPs is 1.65 seconds, so a site that loads in 3 or even 5 seconds is at a significant disadvantage.

Site speed across devices is a part of this equation as well. In 2015, SEO was mainly focused on desktop devices, however, mobile is now prioritized. Google even indexes with “mobile first”. A site that’s speedy on a desktop browser but laggy on a mobile device will still feel the pressure of Google’s algorithms. With Google’s penchant for punishing sites that aren’t responsive or don’t have a mobile alternative, it’s possible that mobile matters even more than desktop in today’s internet age.

How to Test Site Speed

Testing site speed is fairly easy and can be done in a much more quantitative manner than loading a page and counting the seconds.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a valuable tool for those who would like to analyze and improve site speeds. This resource assigns scores to different facets of websites, like first continual paint (FCP), first input delay (FID), largest contentful paint (LCP), and cumulative layout shift (CLS). Together, Google uses these kinds of tools to assign an outcome and highlight areas for improvement. This can be an excellent starting point for those not sure where problems lie.

There are other tools that can be used to gauge and analyze site speed, like the Pingdom Website Speed Test. These kinds of resources are invaluable in assessing the kinds of problems a site has.

How to Improve Site Speeds

Improving site speed is always possible, so for those who want to boost SEO outcomes, a few small tweaks can be the difference between a spot on the first page and one on the second. These steps can make the process of improving site speed fast and easy, creating a better experience for visitors to a site and improving a site’s presence in the SERPs.

Choose the Right Website Host

Believe it or not, the website host in use can have a significant effect on site speeds. Not all hosts are capable of supporting large websites, and making existing sites bigger and more complex will only result in more problems.

Rather than picking the cheapest host, the easiest host to get started with, or the first name that appears on Google, take time to do proper due diligence. Not all companies have the same needs and not all web hosts can provide the same solutions. Read reviews, evaluate features, and, if necessary information isn’t easily available, reach out to representatives at hosting companies directly.

It’s tempting to jump the gun, particularly for new businesses just starting out, but patience is a virtue. Picking the wrong host from the start is a far more expensive and challenging problem to solve than investing time and energy into choosing the right host off the bat.

For those who prefer WordPress to other website builders, WP Engine is among the best options available. Hosting over 1.2 million sites across the web, WP Engine offers support and speeds many other smaller hosts can’t accomplish.

Upgrade to the Newest Version of [Content Management System]

For those using WordPress or any other builder that offers periodic updates, keeping a site as up to date as possible is always recommended. Some companies shy away from updates, particularly if the update process has the potential to cause other tech issues, but this can be detrimental to site performance.

WordPress updates are always rolled out intentionally and can often correlate with enhanced performance. This can mean faster site speeds, more features, and a more streamlined and modern appearance.

Updates go beyond patches for problems, too. In keeping a platform updated, it’s easier to have access to the best features PHP (server-side language of WordPress) allows for. This scripting language is fast, functional, and easy to use, but some hosts limit the available options. Keeping WordPress up to date allows for the maximum opportunities possible within the scope of a host. This can mean more ways to streamline functionality and improve user experiences.

For those on the fence about making upgrades, it’s important to weigh the costs with the benefits. Even complex updates are worthwhile it if the alternative is a slow site that can’t perform to its maximum potential.

Stream Audio and Video

Many companies like to add video or audio to their websites, either to communicate about company objectives or introduce potential customers to products or services. While this can be beneficial – having video on a landing page can increase conversions by as much as 80% – but there can be downsides. Average site sizes have increased threefold since 2011, with the average website around 3mb. This expansion is almost exclusively linked to an increase in video content across web pages.

Video is great, but it can have significant impacts on site speed. Videos take longer to load than images, and images take longer to load than text. Without the right approach, it’s easy to let site size spiral out of control.

Streaming audio and video, however, can alleviate some of the pressure on load times. YouTube, for example, is an incredibly large site but still manages to achieve speedy load times due to their chosen content management approach. Use YouTube’s servers to host your video and protect your own site from having to serve large amounts of data.

Compress Images

While video files are often the culprit in a slow site that’s heavy on visual content, this isn’t the only area in which many websites fail to deliver. Images, particularly large images taken with a high megapixel camera can be quite large. Leaving these images as-is without reducing file size can slow load times noticeably, especially for sites with numerous images throughout.

Compressing images is a quick, easy solution to this problem. File compression services exist across the web and can be used to reduce file sizes from something enormous to something realistic. These services don’t reduce image quality, or at least not in a way perceptible to the average web user. Instead, they make websites faster, easier, and more accessible for users across all kinds of devices.

For website managers struggling to find a solution for lagging load times, this is often a good place to start. And potentially a good place to finish; for sites that are otherwise unproblematic, compressing images can shave off valuable seconds.

Use a Content Delivery Network

Content delivery networks aren’t always an intuitive solution for webmasters looking to improve site speed but this can be an effective avenue for those with unique needs.

Content delivery networks, often referred to as CDNs, are networks of servers spaced out geographically that work to reduce the physical distance between a server and a web user. The use of a CDN facilitates faster load times to visitors around the world rather than just those in proximity to a company’s servers and allows for a higher level of site traffic than a single server can usually accommodate. In addition, CDNs can ensure consistent site availability, even during periods of local server problems.

CDNs are most effective for businesses that operate on a national or global scale versus those who largely cater to customers in a regional area, as well as for those who see high traffic and need a solution to accommodate growth. Businesses that experience seasonality, like tax preparation companies, often find CDNs valuable to handle overflow at times of high demand.

Utilize Gzip

File compression isn’t limited to images and video. Use a program like Gzip to compress files of all kinds, offering flexibility to your website to reduce its total size. Gzip is flexible and functional, allowing for the compression of JavaScript, CSS, and HTML files to as much as 90%. Depending on the original size of a file, this can be a potentially significant change.

As with all tools, using Gzip may not be right for everyone, but when a large site won’t load properly or quickly across devices, file compression options have the potential to impress.

Managing an effective website is a big job, which is why many companies have whole teams dedicated to this process. Balancing the ever-changing algorithms that dominate Google’s search practices with delivering a positive experience to an end user is a big job. Prioritizing site speed in addition to the more common basics of SEO can make a big difference in rankings and visibility, making it much easier for brands to get ahead and stay that way.

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